Keys to Every 1st-Place MLB Team Staying There All Year Long

Chris StephensCorrespondent IIApril 29, 2013

Keys to Every 1st-Place MLB Team Staying There All Year Long

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    The start of the Major League Baseball season has gone exactly the way we thought it would for some teams, while not so much for others.

    Not many teams are atop their divisions after the first month, like many predicted. In fact, Atlanta is the only team that many realistically considered could be leading their division heading into May.

    Boston was thought to have a chance by the middle of the season, but not this early. Kansas City and Texas are surprise leaders, especially the Rangers who lost a lot of offense from last year's team.

    Pittsburgh is looking like they did in the first half of 2012, and Arizona and Colorado are leading out west. It's surprising considering most thought Los Angeles or San Francisco would be up top.

    So, what should those on top do to stay there?

    Here's a look at what each division-leading team must do to stay atop the division all year long.

     

    Note: All stats and records are entering Monday's games and are courtesy of baseball-reference.com.

Boston Red Sox: Maintain Offense

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    As a team, the Boston Red Sox are in the top 10 in nearly every offensive category.

    They rank second in on-base (.346), RBI (120), total bases (357) and doubles (53); third in hits (219) and runs (122); and fourth in average (.270).

    Simply put, the Red Sox are getting it done in multiple areas at the plate.

    They may rank 19th with 23 home runs, but the Red Sox get it done playing team baseball.

    Boston is also 8-4 against its division, which is a big help as well.

Kansas City Royals: Score More Runs Consistently

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    The Kansas City Royals may be the biggest surprise as a division leader.

    It may not be pretty, but the Royals continually find ways to win games. Whether it's 1-0 (Braves) or 13-4 (Phillies), the Royals have won all types of ball games.

    Which brings me to the key for the rest of the season.

    The Royals must score more runs consistently. They can't depend on their pitching to continually hold opponents to three runs or less (12 times this year).

    Kansas City must start scoring runs to take pressure off its pitching staff.

    When they do that, starters like James Shields, Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie can go up there and not feel like they have to be perfect.

Texas Rangers: Continue Stellar Pitching

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    The Texas Rangers have gotten stellar pitching throughout the year.

    After seeing Yu Darvish throw a near-perfect game in the second game of the season, the rest of the starters have followed his lead.

    The starters rank second in ERA (2.97), opponents' batting average (.218) and strikeouts (142), and they rank third in earned runs (47).

    In fact, outside of Matt Harrison, the lowest starter ERA is 3.38 (Alexi Ogando and Derek Holland).

    If the Rangers can keep this up, there's no reason to believe they won't win the AL West.

Atlanta Braves: Play Team Baseball

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    When the Atlanta Braves brought in B.J. and Justin Upton, the knew they would be getting a lot more power to their lineup.

    However, they also knew when the two were added to Jason Heyward and Dan Uggla, the team was going to have a lot of strikeouts.

    And that's exactly what they've had this year.

    The Braves are second in the league with 224 strikeouts, behind only the Houston Astros.

    The main part of the problem is the Braves seem to swing for the fences a lot. While things are good when the ball does go over the fence, they're also bad when they're not.

    Atlanta has struggled when its failed to hit a home run, failing to win a game in which they haven't had a long ball.

    The Braves have to get better at playing team baseball and moving runners over. If they can't, the Washington Nationals will quickly overtake the division.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Score Three Runs or More

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    The Pittsburgh Pirates have a good trend going for them so far this season.

    When the offense scores three runs or more, the Pirates are 14-2.

    That has to give manager Clint Hurdle a lot of confidence in his pitching staff. If all they need is three runs to work with to have success, then the Pirates should have no problem staying on top.

    While it's crazy to think a team could keep that up all season, at least the pitching staff is taking care of business when the run total is that low.

    If they were struggling like the Pirates of old, then there would be a different team listed on this page.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Top Pitchers Need to Pitch Like It

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    The Arizona Diamondbacks are also atop the NL West, but that's amazing considering their top two pitchers are struggling this year.

    Ian Kennedy and Brandon McCarthy are a combined 1-5 and have given up 39 of the starter's 64 earned runs.

    If they are to stay on top of the division, the team's top two pitchers need to start pitching like it.

    How much longer can you expect Patrick Corbin or Trevor Cahill to pitch like they are?

    While they could very well do that, Kennedy and McCarthy need to put things together to ensure the Diamondbacks return to the playoffs after missing out in 2012.

Colorado Rockies: Hit Away from Coors Field

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    Every year is pretty much the same story for the Colorado Rockies.

    They hit the ball like it's nobody's business when they're at Coors Field, but struggle when they get away from there.

    This year is no different, as the Rockies are averaging 5.83 runs at home while averaging 4.75 runs away from home.

    It may not seem like a big difference, but the Rockies are 9-3 at home and 6-7 on the road. Not to mention they scored 12 runs in four games during a recent four-game series with Arizona.